'You're gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine' is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling novel. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishises himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the 'rez,' and his former life, to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The next seven days are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny's world is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages - and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life. Jonny Appleseed is a unique, shattering vision of Indigenous life, full of grit, glitter, and dreams.
First Chapter or Excerpt
I.I figured that I was gay when I was eight. I stayed up late after everyone went to bed and watched Queer as Folk on my kokum's TV. She had a satellite and all the channels, pirated of course. At the time, my mom and I were living with my kokum because my dad had left us thinking he was Dolly Parton or Garth Brooks or something. Queer as Folk aired at midnight on Showcase; I muted the channel, added subtitles, and watched as four gay men lived their lives in Pittsburgh. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to have lofts and go to gay bars and dance with cute boys and blow and get blown in a Philly gloryhole. I wanted to work in comic shops and universities, be sexy and rich. I wanted that. I often jacked off to Brian Kinney's junk and paused on Justin Taylor's bare white ass to finish. I was meticulous about the whole endeavor: I'd turn down the brightness so as not to wake anyone with the glaring light from the television shining under their doors like Poltergeist . To keep my kokum's brown floral couch clean and to hide myself in the event someone caught me, I brought my blanket and wiped myself with a tube sock. I had to hush my breath and curl my toes tightly to avoid gasping whenever I was about to come. When I finally did, and gushed over my chest, I thought, this must be what beauty feels like: my skin tight and burning and the body morphing into a hole that wants to morph into another. When I got a little older, I think I was fifteen, I remember seeing Dan Savage and Terry Miller telling me that it all gets better on the internet. They told me that they knew what I was going through, that they knew me. How, I thought? You don't know me. You know lattes and condominiums--you don't know what it's like being a brown gay boy on the rez. Hell, I'd never even seen a Starbucks and I sure as hell couldn't tell you why a size small is called 'tall'--that's also around the time when I began to collect clients like matryoshka dolls so I suppose at least my income got better. This was of course before the photo sharing apps that I like to use to conduct my business now, but at that time, the Internet was vibrant with people wanting to connect with other people, especially there in Peguis. We had Facebook and cellphones to keep us in the loop. I used to sext with people in this gaming website's chatrooms. I went by the name Lucia and pretended to be a girl to flirt with other boys. Often we'd play virtual pool or checkers and begin with small talk. Then, once I became Lucia, I'd put ideas of sex into their minds by playing naïve and directing the conversation towards dirty questions. I always liked to let them think they were the ones in control. I'm a sadist like that, I guess. I may be the fantasy but I'm also the shackle. Once the image of breasts and pubic hair was in their minds there was no going back. Sex does strange things to people--it's like blacking out or going on cruise control. Your body knows what it wants and goes for it. This can be dangerous, as I'd learn later, but if you can manipulate the urge, you can almost control a person. I felt like Professor Xavier--like I was telepathic.That was how my webcam career began, with virtual pool and cybersex. That was how I met Tias. He was my first cybernetic boyfriend--I was the Russian princess Lucia and he was the five-years-older-than-he-really-is Native boy who dreamed of losing his virginity. We were quite the digital couple. At the time I wasn't out, but the school knew I was different in some sense. They called me fag, homo, queer--all the fun stuff. But I never let it bother me. I sometimes caught girls and boys peeking a glance at my body. I went by a hundred different names; no one called me by my real name, Jonny. Everyone knew me as The Vacuum outside of my family. If you'd ever known me between the ages of twelve and today, you have probably come across me as The Vacuum. See, my only friend through school Shane, gave me that nickname when I shotgunned a can of Lucky in less than eight seconds. Apparently that's the world record for Indians shot gunning beers on the rez--so, from there on out I became known as The Vacuum and the name stuck. Throughout school I used to go by different vacuum brands as my name, I've been Hoover, Kirby, Makita, DD (short for DirtDevil), and sometimes, after my mom brought me home a new shirt from her trip to Giant Tiger in the city, I would go by Dyson--when I was feeling extra fancy. You see, I've never liked my birth name, Jonny. My parents named me after my dad who was this residential school survivor/alcoholic who left us, like I told you earlier. Some of the elders around here say he died in a rez fire. Who knows, I really don't care. People don't forget those stories, you know? "Oh you're so-and-so's boy, the drunk?" random people ask me. And, to top the name-shame off, when I was a kid I went to this Christian day camp called Camp Arnes. There, our counselor, Stephen, made us sing this song before eating a meal. It was called Jonny Appleseed and it went like this:"Oh the lord is good to me and so I thank the lord for giving me the things I need like the sun and the love and the family I need. Oh, the lord is good to me, Jonny Appleseed, amen." Sounds dandy, right? Well when I was at Camp Arnes I kissed my first boyfriend, Louis--he was a silver fox and was a camp counselor like Stephen--any who, as we made out in my bunk (in Red Fox Bay) one of Louis' coworkers walked in on us. Turns out Louis had this girlfriend in Quinzhee Bay and when caught, he got all up in arms and blamed me for coming onto him. A few hours later the whole camp knew about the incident and called me Jonny Rottenseed. Lo and behold while we prayed, no one closed their eyes and bent their heads, instead the prayer was full of shifting glares, whispers, disgust and fear. Even at age ten, an Indian can become a predatory gay. And what does that even mean? Can't a boy have a sex-drive? Is it such a crime if I want to touch my body and let it be touched? It's mine, annit? When I got back to the rez I did some research at our shoddy little make-shift library--Dewey Decimal doesn't really apply on the rez, our books were scattered in piles which were usually either in Pile A, the Cosmos, Pile B, Peguis Fishermen yearbooks, and Pile C, random shit--so it made being a Nancy Drew especially difficult. It turns out that Johnny Appleseed is some American folk legend that became famous by planting apple trees in West Virginia. I never understood why we sang about him in Manitoba--I wanted to talk about Louis Riel, Chief Peguis, and Buffy St. Marie but instead we sang about a white man throwing apple seeds in frontier America. Apparently he was this moral martyr figure who remained a virgin in exchange for two wives in heaven. Oh, and he loved animals and saved some horse by hand feeding him spears of grass, Walt Whitman style. I would bet my left nut that he was a slave owner too and planted his apple seeds on Treaty territory. All I know is this: apples are crazy expensive on the rez and they had now become bad things in my head. My stepdad Roger used to call me an apple when I told him I wanted to leave the rez. "You're red on the outside," he'd say, "and white on the inside." II.When I first moved to Winnipeg I frequented Grindr and Rez Fox to find friends--with benefits of course. My apartment was flooded with whiteness--light, walls, ceiling. And I always wondered about everyone's obsession with toilets and cleanliness--the pristine shine of a toilet seat since cleaned. The toilet we had on the rez was so old it became a mocha-ombre and the lid, which broke when I was a kid, was replaced with my cousin's after he died in a snowmobile accident. It was this bannock coloured yellow lid that my mom spruced up by adding a red fluffy cover she bought from Wal-Mart. "I saw it in the Marlborough once," she'd say, "thought it looked right fancy." An Indian bathroom is a star-blanket of colours collected from garage sales, hand-me-downs, and good wills. Back when I was a kid I ate my kokum's rainbow peanut butter marshmallow squares at a family BBQ. My older cousins snuck me a few shots of Bacardi 151--it burned all the way down. Eleven years old and drunk in the early afternoon I ran to my kokum's bathroom and threw up a confetti of colours into her toilet. Half eaten marshmallows floated in the water and the wine-copper metal peeked out from where the helter-skelter shoddy paint job peeled back. The bowl was full of rum and peanut butter. When I tried to recompose myself I flushed the toilet but found that the damn thing didn't flush. In a panic, I opened the back of the toilet and scooped the throw-up with my hands and deposited it into the tank. A few days later my Uncle told us over tea and bannock that "Some drunk jackass puked in the tank and god damn mold started growing back there." I felt a little proud that I had been ordained into that type of world--but my face reddened at the same time. An Indian bathroom is such a weird space of waste and life. I don't think whiteness really holds much worth there. I had nothing to do save for staring at my walls--which too were all white. I logged onto my Grindr and found a pool of men in my general area all with funny names like "fotohomo" and "nudedude" and I thought, really? these queers are Dr. Seuss wannabes. There were shirtless dudes left and right and within minutes I had collected a storybook of dick-pics. Pfft these boys could learn a thing or two from my artistic selfies, they're a hell of a lot more than peach emojis and eggplants. All their profiles said, "looking to chat" and "please be respectable" and I wondered what respect had to do with hooking up? The first time I ever hooked up a guy we were at my friend's house party on the rez. He was a tall white kid who came with his Indian friend--his friend acted as a temporary pass system for him, if he stuck around too long the rowdy guys would probably kick his ass. He came in a shirt and tie telling everyone he was learning about psychoanalysis in school. His friend gravitated towards one of the rez girls and he was stuck alone sitting sheepishly in a corner, his eyes darting back and forth like a security camera. His fingers were long and thin, skeletal almost, and his hair was slicked back and patchy in areas. I thought about telling him that bear grease would fix him right up but I could tell from his thin, twinky physique that he'd shy away from anything with fat in it. His body was scrunched into itself, his elbows pushed to his sides, his neck curved like a bell, and his legs crossed. He sat quietly drinking his red wine and surveyed the room. Stupid, I thought, bringing wine to a house party--it was a badge that screamed "I'm not from here." I watched him from afar while my girlfriend eyed him up, "He's right cute eh?" she said, "I'm gonna snag him later." You're stupider than you look, Tasha, that guy's gay as hell. He rapidly jiggled his foot and I thought it looked like a fishtail. I felt bad for the guy so I grabbed a Coors Light and sat down beside him."For starters you might want to ditch your wine and drink this," I cracked open the tin lid. "And for godsakes, take that damn tie off." He looked quizzically at me for a second, his eyes glazing over with that hunger we both shared. He uncrinkled his bony fingers and smiled at me. His teeth were pinkish and I noticed that he had a small red ring stained around his mouth. How the fuck he did that was beyond me, did he place the whole of the glass around his mouth and lick the wine like a cat? I took it as a sign from God that this man loved rimming--that was something we could later agree on. "Thank you," he said, "this wine is giving me a stomach ache.""You want some Pepto?""Oh no thank you, I try not to take medicine on account of the superbugs, you know? I don't want to develop immunity.""Sure thing bud," I said, "because you're not knocking back wine like it's medicine."He laughed and I eye-rolled--I sure as hell wasn't going to offer him root tea as an alternative. "Where you from?" "Kitchener.""Oh yeah, that near the capital?""Not really, but it's a few hours by car.""You going to take me some time er what?" I joked."Well, I mean, yeah if you're ever in the area hit me up."That was when I knew I had him--just the talk of capital gave him a hard-on. He told me that he was an undergraduate at some place called McMaster--I wanted to ask him if Ronald taught there too. He was studying psychology and told me something about the bystander effect. "It's like this study where researchers' set-up an emergency in a controlled setting and have paid actors simply walk by and offer no help." "So, like, what's the point?""To analyze how crowds of people react to emergency situations--so those paid actors walk by and their response becomes infective to others around them creating the bystander effect."This hypothesis didn't seem too revolutionary to me. But I liked how animated he got when he talked, how his back rose and his neck straightened so that his whole body became erect and curled toward me like a cedar branch, how he straightened his tie in between his breath, and sat forward, opening his legs. I liked the way his mouth shaped around the word analyze--liked the way his tongue flicked when he said "anal-yze". After that it was as if every word he said began with an 'O' and his mouth became a great 'O' and his breathing took on the rhythm of panting; his lips smacked with excited spit and if you looked sideways his dimples looked like an ass cheek. I wanted to open him up, spread apart his skin and crawl into his body so I could pretend that I knew fancy words like dendrite, placebo, and law of effect--I didn't know that law but I had a few memorized by then and each one required you to have memorized your treaty number. When he said "neocortex" I wondered if that was the part of the brain I was using to record him? The only cortex I knew was from Crash Bandicoot --maybe we were talking about that now? As he kept drawling on I touched his knee with mine. He continued talking methodically but he put pressed his knee hard against mine. His upper half remained orderly, his tone excited but stern, his mouth still making 'O's' from the vowels of fancy words, but his bottom half was rigid and square. He put pressure on my knee, sliding it across the kitchen floor, opening my legs like we were both saddled bareback on a horse. Our legs made a rectangle and the space between us was filled with chipped tiles, a ketchup stain, and toast crumbs. He continued to talk psychobabble but as I turned my gaze from his mouth to his knees I saw his dick resting tightly on his leg wrapped in denim like the steak that are sealed in plastic wrap. He caught my gaze and looked at me. His eyes were bloodshot now from the haze of cigarette smoke and the tingle of wine tickled his intestines--I got scared. His body no longer read timid and his red-white eyes reminded me of the stories of the wendigo my kokum used to tell me when I was bad. He cocked his head and got up. I followed him through the bunched up group of natives who stood near the door huddled together. There was always a group at the door, smoking, but also acting like the god-damn Indian police: "Who are you? Where you from? Who you know?" they all asked--you may as well come to a rez party with your quantum results if you want to get in. He went down the stairs and I descended too, a few paces behind. His long shadow wavered on the walls as the dinky ceiling light swayed back and forth from the open window--every limb on his body looked sharp and came to a point. He ducked his head into the laundry room which was tucked away in the back corner of the house. The cement floor was uneven, bumpy, and brailled--it was a refreshing cool on the soles of my feet. He went into the laundry room and light a cigarette. The tall boy with a tie that directed me towards his hardness stood in the room, barely lit in a red light. He cocked his head again and part of me got annoyed-- you're doing it wrong, boy, you're supposed to point with your lips. There was no door to the room, only a bed sheet that closed it off. There were piles of dirty clothes, a lot of them for a baby and some for a little kid. He threw them all into a single pile and sat down against it, unbuttoning his shirt. His chest was a tundra save for the few tendrils of dark hair that obfuscated it. I moved towards him and kneeled in front of him. I put my nose against his before his lips reached for mine. He lifted my shirt and my belly was bare against the dark. His fingers traced their way down the trails of my pubic hair, and his index finger met the hollow of my pelvis. "What if someone walks in?" I said, stopping him. My body was slippery with sweat and I was embarrassed--I didn't want to have sex feeling like a pickerel. "No one's going to come down here," he cockily replied. How the fuck you know , I thought, you've never even been here before. "Lots of people snag here, hell, that's what that mattress over there is for" I lip pointed. He sighed and got up. He picked up the little mattress and blockaded the door by nudging it's corner behind the washing machine. "Here, now if anyone comes in at least we'll have a few minutes to throw something on before they can move this."He stood over me, his tall figure barely visible as my eyes adjusted to the dark. The floor was cold but his hands were coals over me. His large hands seemed bigger now, large, edgy, wide enough to papoose me. He unbuckled his fly and let loose a curled flap of skin that pointed up at him. He pulled my legs and slid me down while he maneuvered his hip against my ear and with a slight twirl I was tasting him. The rue of his juice--the leaking of white ectoplasm swishing in my mouth. I wanted this but didn't know what to do with it. I always wondered how he did that magic, how he shapeshifted his body in the dark, how his edges poked me but never cut me, how he fit into me like a nipple fits into a baby's mouth. His transforming body wrapped around me, blanketed me, made me sweat ceremonially. His body was full of thick hair and his teeth bit into me. His orgasm was a breathy grunt that turned his whole body into an 'O' that clamped down on me like a snout. Sex has always had a magic, an ability to awaken things that have died. After we wiped each other off he buttoned back up and left, I cried. My skin was warm and scratched. Maskwa, I thought, I travel with my tongue just to meet you. The funny thing about Grindr is that it's full of treaty chasers, they'll fetishize the hell out of them if you tell them you're a real Indian wolf-boy, you got tribes, arrows pointing to faces and cocks; heck, I had a lot of respect for people whose usernames said "Hot oral" or "Hosting" at least they were upfront about what they want and not usurping the veneer of good intentions." Grindr is all the same. After I signed up and made a collage of dick-pics that came from profiles without face-pics I mostly used it to gather clients. I was a professional--work smart, not hard. At least Grindr had the category "Native American" and it allowed me to exoticize myself. "You're Indian, eh" I'd be messaged. "Yeah, wanna see?" I'd reply and link them to my websites. It was easy as pie to gather new work--everyone on that damned app was obsessed with New Age shit like van-folk-Kerouacs playing gypsy in Canada and hipster shamans who collect crystals and geodes looking for a Native to solidify their sorcery. "Want a stamp of validation? Here's my website!" I'd get solicited for excursions from men saying, "Let's go on rad adventures to mystical forests and take a swim through the galaxy?". The only mysticism I knew was on the backroads of the reservation, like when you came face to face with a coyote who clears the path of birds with her howl. And I always got a tickle out of how you could categorize yourself within this gay animal kingdom: "bear, otter, wolf, fox, cubs". If only these gays knew how powerful Mistahimaskwa could really be.To be a gay bear you need to be husky, hairy, and super masc but when I picked a tribe on Grindr I choose bear since it was my doodem. When the men signed in and looked at my profile and saw my fierce jawline they knew, "You're not a bear," they'd remark, "you're a twink." Funny, I thought, neither are you. When I'd correct them they'd get annoyed and tell me not to get so butt-hurt and say it with a dumbfounded obliviousness; truth be told, if anal sex is hurting that much, well, honey, you're doing it wrong. And I always had a good laugh at the ol' Creator for being so mischievous so as to put the male g-spot in the anus. I read once that Anishinaabe translates to "beings made out of nothing" and that we were created by the breath of gichi manitou. I used to think that meant I had no body, so I learned how to make love as a feral a long time ago--the powwows taught me how, they sang the skin back onto my bones. III.Nobody prepares you for the sting when you're about to leave. All my life I wanted to leave the rez--and every time I was about to leave I stopped myself. It hurt. Leaving hurts. It's not all glamour like Julia Roberts makes it seem. I can't eat anything other than fried bologna or klik for breakfast; I can't pray to a God I'm afraid of; and believe it or not, even in the twenty-first century, two brown boys can't fall in love on the rez--we can blow each other when we're blacked out but that's as far as brown skin queerness goes. Sorry Julia, you're rah-rah-we're-all-the-same-walkthrough didn't work for me. I'm still me: a brown skinned boy who loves the X-Men and Jake Bass. One knowledge I'd later learn about leaving is that it always hurts--home isn't a space, it's a feeling. You have to feel home and to feel it you have to sense it: feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it. And it isn't always comfortable--at least not an Indian home. In fact, quite often, it's uncomfortable. But it's home because the bannock is still browning in the oven and your kokum is still making tea and eating arrowroot cookies. It's home because it has to be--routine satiates these pangs. And, given time, it becomes mobile. When your kokum dies and the lard becomes too expensive to buy you can take those rituals with you--uproot home as if it were a flower. Yeah, maybe home is like a flower, a sunflower whose bobble head follows the sun; or maybe that's too fancy a metaphor for Indians? Maybe we're more like dandelions, a weed that's sickening to have in the yard but pretty in our colour. Yeah, an Indian home is like a dandelion. Pretty and disposable but imbued with a million little fibers that dissolve into wishes for little white hands that pluck. My home is full of hope and ghosts. IV.At the entrance to my rez there used to be this man who'd sit in a lawn chair and wave to everyone coming in, we called him "Smiling Steven" but I always called him the hostess-with-the-mostess. He's not there anymore--even he's gone. This place is a haunted house, I wonder if there's anyone even here anymore? I look up to the empty sky that's glazed with stars that look too much like sugar. The land is barren save for the howling-talk of rez dogs and sometimes coyotes. The spring water puddles around the rez like a blanket--the muggy fog a polluted haze that reminds me of Venus, even the air hurts us now. I look up at the sky, wonder if my Uncle is still out looking for Sasquatch, wonder if aliens are looking down at us and saying "I told ya so," wonder if my kokum still remember how to cook rice pudding? I wonder how Tias is doing, ask the creator to exorcise his pain so he never gifts it to his children, never re-gifts it to himself. I look into nothingness, into a wasteland of filth, a holy hell, I look to you and feel the tears welling in the ducts. I want to ask you if you're still here listening? Want to ask if even you've disappeared. They always said our fate was to disappear and here I am thinking by god we've mastered the art of dissolution. "Hey you," I yell into this reservation cavity, "are you even here anymore?". And I guess the excitement and the dry harsh wind gives me a nosebleed--I feel like Elle from Stranger Things holding weights much too heavy for little girly-boys. I feel the blood seeping from my nose speaking a forgotten Cree that repeats: freeme, freeme, freeme.These days I find myself far too often talking with my self--these days I spend too much time talking with ghosts. The wind ruffles my hair; I hold my palms out to the darkness and wait for someone to take me. V.The skies are grey these days and I got used to telling myself that it's just my kokum having a great smudge in Saskatoon and that this smoke, which smells of cedar and ash, is her medicine floating across the border. But it hangs in my living room and seeps into my drapes, clings to my skin, and nestles itself deep into the threads of my star blanket--which now lies in the shape of a body since gone. My apartment is a room of scents that stick to the walls: the smoke from a Saskatchewan forest fire, kush, the too-too sweet smell of browning bananas, and the pungent stink of sex. I start my mornings like this: I wake up, take a piss, light a cigarette, warm up last night's coffee, and open the rickety window in my bathroom. My complex is a no-smoking building so I often sneak my cigarettes here in the bathroom and ash them into an old Diet Pepsi can that looks more like a cigarette burial ground than an aluminum can. There isn't much to see beyond my bathroom window but the grey-grit of the Odeon's bricks, a rusting fire escape, and a pigeon building its nest on the windowsill of an abandoned building across the alley. Every morning we meet here: me, rubbing the ash and crusting scum from my lips, and that bird neatly piling little sticks, roaches, and even a thigh bone from a chicken drumstick on the abandoned ledge. Silly little bird, I always think, building a home in a dead place. During the time it takes me to smoke my cigarette, we stare at each other. The pigeon cocks its head from side to side, keeping its beady eyes fixed on me and I bob mine along to the hum of the street below. I wonder if the bird thinks the same of me, if, in its own pigeon-head, it's saying: what a silly man, making a home on the land of ghosts. We are both two queer bodies moving around in a room that looks less like a home and more like desperate lodgings; both trying to make our bed with other people's garbage. Maybe we are both dreaming of utopia, thinking that these buildings we call home, buildings that used to house celebrities and important people, will imbue us with a similar vivacity. Puffing on the final bits of my cigarette, inhaling smoke more from a burning filter than tobacco, I nod at the bird and say, "I'll think you are if you think I am," and blow from my lips a cloud of smudge that smells less like the stink of ass and cock and more like the bear root that my kokum always drank. "It's magic," she'd say, "this is what woke mistahimaskwa up." Cleaning my apartment is an easy task. I cook a few eggs, fry up the heart-shaped pieces of bologna I have left, and pour a glass of orange juice, which only fills about a third of the glass so I mix it with tang and top it off with tap water, an Indian breakfast if I ever did see one. I scroll through Facebook on my phone to lengthy monologues by some people I went to high school with: so-and-so is pregnant, my cousin's cousin's boyfriend is on another bender, a rez fire, a little boy attacked by wild dogs, and a million posts about missing girls. A little beep goes off and I see a new message blinking on my screen, I click it. Someone named 'Hatehound' has messaged me asking, "DTF?" I type in, "Who's this?" and see the little three dots telling me he's replying. He's quick, I tell myself, and I think that's a good sign for some easy cash. Quick guys don't take much work, I usually don't even have to work my way up to fingering myself, usually a few playful dick-pics will get them off and earn me a solid twenty-to-thirty-bones; it's the slow guys you have to be careful of, they'll exhaust your body and still want more. Pictures and web cam shows are one job, but let me tell you how exhausting it is to make for them an entire world that fits only your body and theirs, to conjure their fantasies. I can be a barely legal twink for them if they want, but that's going to cost extra--and I don't charge them for the memories such fantasies drudge up. Although, most times they only want me to play Indian--I bought these costumes a few Halloweens ago to help me: Pocasquaw and Chief Wansum Tail. Once I knew what kind of body they wanted, I could make myself over. Here I am an Apache Indian who scalps cowboys in the frontier--truthfully, I'm Oji-Cree. One time, one of my clients told me I had a red-rocket and while I moaned for him with a low-grunt and Frank Waln rapping in the background I continually repeated, "You want my red-rocket?" Later when I looked up what red-rocket means I found out that it's the dick of a dog. I thought for a second, and accepted it: I added "canine" to the list of entities I could morph into and charged an extra few bucks per session after that. Hatehound replied, "April told me about you this morning, apparently you blew his mind last night?" April? He must mean hardck22, I think he said his name was April--I never ask real names, we go by the virtual, but him I recalled because I laughed thinking he was joking or feeling nostalgic for spring. A part of me wanted to say, "April eh? Yeah, and I'm fucking January Jones." Another part of me wanted to cry and confess that April was the month my kokum died. But I just laughed and I think he got mad--I wish he knew that when an Indian laughs it's because they're coating a fresh layer of medicine on an opening wound. "Give me twenty minutes?" I replied to Hatehound. I saw the three little dots bouncing on my screen and pondered who I wanted to transform into for the next hour. I can occupy so many people and he can only be one--that excited me. I had so much power when I transformed--all that power over blood, veins, and nerve-endings. "Sure," he replied and I squealed a little. I took my black velvet bodysuit from my closet. For the next thirty minutes I'd be Catwoman, and every iteration of her, the better parts of Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Newmar, and Anne Hathaway. When I slid the bodysuit over my calves and onto my shoulders, I watched my brown skin disappear beneath the pull of a zipper and felt so much more in control. Maybe as Catwoman I'd have the courage to ask how he could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us?"Catwoman?" he asked after I sent him a picture, "April says you dress up as yourself, you know, with the fringe and shit? Why are you acting weird?"I scoffed, and upped my fee to thirty-dollars for the session. When he declined and sent only twenty-five to my Snapchat piggybank I took off the cat ears and asked him who he was pretending to be.VI.When we were kids, Tias' parents took us camping at Hecla, which was about an hour east of the rez. It was in this park, Grindstone, and full of trees, water, and white people. We took our tents and camped in one of the lots. Little tribe of brown skins camping in two pup tents while a family of three camped in an RV worth more than our house--I always wondered what the inside of those giant machines looked like. Tias had his own little pup tent and his parents, fresh off a bingo win, paid for us to have the campsite across from them. We threw up our tent, got on our swimming trunks, and ran for the beach. The beach was about a twenty-minute walk through the park but it was a fun adventure for us. All these fluffy parachutes billowed through the air, twirling like ballerinas all around us, and the tall grass swayed, and the sunflowers made faces in the noon. Tias made faces too, when he was in nature, his pained complexion softened and the dimples in his cheeks rose like little smiles of their own. We made headway for the beach and the large waves that the wind riled up swallowed us like crawfish. We could go out so far and the water would only be up to our stomach. Water pooled in my belly button like a hot spring, Tias laughed, stopped, cupped his hand on my pouch, and put his finger in my navel. What a funny word, navel, but perhaps it was fitting, my skin had pruned in the lake water and bubbled itself like the skin of an orange--I was full of juices too. His finger prodded me and his nails were sharp, he felt like a leech suckling on the rump where nikâwiy cut me free. I jumped on his back, laced my feet around his waist, wrapped my arms around his shoulders, our long wet hair coming together like sweet grass. He carried me out as far as we could go, the shore drifting farther and farther, the water throwing our laughs back at us. When Tias was finally exhausted, he let me go, I peeled my chest from his back and we waded there, looking at one another, the waves crashing down on us when our lips got too plump. "This is like Titanic, eh?" I said before a wave hurled itself at me. "I never watched it--two fucking VHS, what the?" "Don't be such a smart ass," I slugged him in the arm. "Okay fine, I'm Jack, you can be Rose," he pulled my head above the water. "You sure? You know I'm dink-eyed as fuck; I'd cut your damn hand off if I had to chop you free with an axe." We played in the water until our bodies became raisins--we looked like elders with tiny bodies, like NDN Benjamin Buttons. And time passed too quick for two little nates to measure. The sun was going down and we had drifted much too far to recount our steps. Our bodies were tired, legs drained of energy, biceps deflated, so we linked arms and filled our bellies with air so that we floated like salmon coming up for air. We stopped pushing against the waves and let it push us back to the shore; our shoulders and hair moussed with seafoam. When we got back to shore our bodies were exhausted. I sat on the shore to catch my breath while Tias ran ahead to look for the towels we recklessly threw down. The sun was falling and the setting sun tinted the world a lavender colour. Tias left a trail of prints in the sand, some disappearing from the pulse of the waves, others filling with water. When I caught my breath I followed the steady path of ingrained toes. I found him not too much father, lying exhausted in the sand, his body cupped by erosion. I watched him for a few minutes before he noticed me, I thought, he is a man built simply. As he lie on the beach his forearm glittered in the purple haze, his skin so bronzed that he melded in with the sand. I sat down beside him, asked him where home was and he replied, "I never know where home is." So we sat there awhile, our naked shoulders rubbing, shaking our hair loose of the water like wet dogs, telling stories. "You know," he began, much like he always does, the way Indians expect you to know every story like a telepath, "I have this photo at home." He shook his hair again, beads of sand collecting at the tips. "Oh yeah?" "Yeah--I have this picture at home. Of my sister, she's a baby--." "You have a sister?" I have this uncanny ability to interrupt people midsentence. "Yeah, well, had, a sister." "What happen? She die or something?" "Worse. She was taken." I've never been able to handle uncomfortable situations very well, I always make jokes to deal. And I remember making some stupid joke about Liam Neeson in Taken. "You think this is a fucking joke?" he said, his hands rolled into a ball because his knuckles hadn't yet become pronounced. He kicked me in the side and knocked me over and before I had a chance to roll onto my side he climbed on top of me and punched me in the side of the head. "What do you know about anything Jonny?" another punch, "you think because you're gay you're the only one with problems in this world?" And like that his face scrunched with pain again, his wet ass up against my cock--I guess I got a half chub. He felt it pushing against his rear, and at first he sat there dumbfounded, didn't move, looked down at me, his eyes a brown wormhole. And then he got off-- "You're sick, you know that? Who the fuck gets horny from being punched?" We sat in silence for a few seconds then burst into laughter. "You're really something, you know that Jonny?" We got up and made back for our campsite--ready for the licken we were bound to get for being so damned late but I wanted to collect a souvenir from the beach. As he went on ahead, I found a snail shell poking out where Tias had pushed me into the sand. I pocketed it. And next to my outline was his; I traced the puncture holes left from his fingers, the indents from his cheeks, the mark left from the soft hollow between his legs. We made our way back in the pepper light of the moon. The willows all shook in the wind, the waves a distant world away. His back was glowing from dead stars, dead light. His parents were wicked, sent us both to bed without any supper, called us both a "god damn curse" for making them worry. We giggled in the tent and made shadow animals with a flashlight. His was a wolf, mine an eagle. I never had to tell him, that was how I knew I loved him--I never had to tell him. Excerpted from Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.